“How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who proclaims peace,
Who brings glad tidings of good (things),
Who proclaims salvation,
Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!””
– Isaiah 52:7 NKJV
I’ve always loved Isaiah’s imagery of feet in this passage… “how beautiful are the feet of him.” A number of years ago I attended a church that had a large clergy staff. On Sunday mornings when it came time to serve communion, one priest would be at the altar and all the rest of the clergy would kneel across the front of the church to receive communion. As a person in the pew, what I saw was a line of white robes with black shoes sticking out from under them… a whole row of feet!… and this verse from Isaiah would always pop into my head.
This may not have been what Isaiah meant, but in a way it was kind of appropriate… because our pastors loved God and loved His people, and faithfully proclaimed the good news. You could say they have ‘beautiful feet’.
So what is the good news these feet are bringing?
- First, in Isaiah 52 verse 7, the messenger announces peace. The Hebrew word here is shalom. It means more than just absence of conflict; it’s a holistic sense of well-being.
- Second, the messenger announces good news – something we often find a shortage of in everyday life. He announces tidings of good things.
- Third, he announces the kingdom of God – our God reigns, and this messenger, like a herald, goes before Him and announces His arrival.
- And he announces salvation. Which raises some questions, like ‘what does this salvation look like?’ The answer is complex… and I’ll come back to it in a moment.
First a note: Isaiah remarks on the messengers themselves in Isaiah 52:8. “The voice of your watchmen” – the translation is correct. The voice – one voice – many watchmen. They (plural) lift up their voice (singular). They proclaim as one. With one heart, with one mind. Isaiah says ‘eye to eye’ they proclaim. Beholding His glory, “together they sing for joy”. When God’s ministers and messengers agree on the message, this is good news for God’s people.
Isaiah continues – verse 9 – “break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people…” This brings us back to the salvation Isaiah was talking about back in verse 7, and leads us into the heart of the prophecy.
Though he couldn’t have known it at the time, Isaiah’s prophecy is a triple one: three different fulfillments under three different circumstances. The first and most direct fulfillment is the one that’s contemporary to Isaiah. Isaiah is writing to the Jewish exiles living in Babylon, and during his time Jerusalem lies in ruins. Only the poorest of the poor remain in the city dealing with wild animals and bandits. The city walls are broken down, the temple is destroyed. Isaiah is writing to comfort people living far from home, far from the Promised Land. He assures them that God has not forgotten them and that He will bring them home.
The Babylonian captivity lasted for 70 years, which meant many generations experienced Babylonian rule. Psalm 129 which we read a moment ago describes how the people were feeling during this time. The psalmist writes:
“They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,”
let Israel say;
“they have greatly oppressed me from my youth…
Plowmen have plowed my back
and made their furrows long.”
Have you ever seen pictures of slaves from the Civil War era, slaves who had been whipped? You can see the ridges of scars running down their backs. That’s the kind of thing the psalmist is talking about. Physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual suffering. And Isaiah’s message is one of comfort and encouragement… a message that makes it possible for the psalmist to continue saying:
“But the Lord is righteous;
he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.”
The second fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy happens when Jesus is born. Isaiah 52 speaks of redemption, but more than that, it is surrounded by a context that speaks of the Messiah. The following chapter Isaiah 53 contains the famous description of the ‘suffering servant’, including the words, “he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities… and with his stripes we are healed.”
Not only that but St. Paul also makes the connection when he quotes Isaiah 52 as he speaks of salvation in the 10th chapter of Romans. Paul writes:
””Every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how can people call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? … As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!””
There can be no doubt that Isaiah’s words look forward to the coming of the Messiah. “Good news of great joy to all people,” as Luke says in his gospel. (Luke 2:10) And just in case there’s any doubt the Messiah is who Isaiah is talking about here, look at the Hebrew in Isaiah 52:7 – “who proclaims salvation” – the Hebrew word for ‘salvation’ here is Yeshua. “Who brings glad tidings, who proclaims Yeshua.”
…Which leads us into the gospel reading for today (Luke 6:17-23). To set the scene: Jesus, surrounded by a multitude of people from all over the country is demonstrating God’s compassion, and God’s deliverance, as He heals, delivers from demons, and reaches out to people as they reach out to Him. Luke says, “power came out of him and healed them all”.
And then Jesus begins to explain his actions in words, teaching the people about the Heavenly Kingdom that His miracles demonstrate. He gives them a foretaste of the Promised Land. He says:
“Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom… blessed are the hungry, you will be filled… blessed are you who weep, for you will laugh… blessed are you when people exclude you, put you down, for My sake… they did the same thing to the prophets! Rejoice, your reward is great.”
In Jesus, as in Isaiah, we see that God is deeply concerned about justice, healing, and freedom. And I should note that when Jesus talks about the poor and the hungry – not all hunger is physical, and not all poverty is monetary. Jesus deals with it all.
One side note: when Jesus says to the persecuted ones, “your reward is great” – the word ‘great’ in Greek is plural. We have a very wealthy God who is lavish in His rewards. His richness and generosity is seen throughout scripture… in creation, in his design for worship in the Old Testament, in his feeding of the five thousand. As Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:4 there is “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” What God has in store for His people is beyond our imagining.
The third fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy is still to come. It will be fulfilled when Jesus returns at the end of the age. Isaiah says the good news will go out to “all the ends of the earth” – which Jesus affirms in the gospel of Matthew, when He says “this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.” This hasn’t happened yet. The gospel hasn’t gotten to ALL the ends of the earth yet. But the first two fulfillments of Isaiah’s prophecy give us hope as we wait for the third.
So back to where we began, with Isaiah, looking at verse 10. “the Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations”. It’s almost like God is showing off his arm, flexing His muscles for all the world to see. “…before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation (the yeshua) of our God.” “You wanna see My power?” says God – “look at Jesus.”
Jesus’ power is not like earthly power. His kingdom is not of this world. His power does not result in wars or death, or things that harm humankind or the planet. Jesus’ power is the power to heal, to give sight, to give hearing, to give speech, to bring life to the dead… and if He will do that for our bodies, how much more will He do for our souls?
That is the message the beautiful feet are bringing. Wherever we find ourselves, whatever our struggles or difficulties, God has not forgotten us. He still cares and He still reigns, and He will bring us home.
Our part is to believe the good news… let it sink deeply into our hearts… and then share it with world that desperately needs to hear it.
Be people with beautiful feet.
Preached at Church of the Ascension, Pittsburgh PA, Wednesday June 12 2013